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An Italian heritage museum, arched entrance-ways, wall murals depicting the story of early Italian immigrants, outdoor cafe-type tables and European-style flower boxes are some of the improvements envisioned to turn Pine Avenue into a "Little Italy" attraction.

The Pine Avenue Business Association commemorated Columbus Day, the day set aside to honor the Italian explorer, by announcing the public-private plan to create an Italian village along Pine Avenue. The street is widely associated as the center of the vital Italian culture and heritage that helped shape the city.

The project would infuse $3.7 million in public and private funds into the commercial corridor over the next five years. The primary target area is between Hyde Park Boulevard and Portage Road, including the City Market and East and West Market streets.

The announcement, held under a tent on 15th Street with Columbus Square Park as a backdrop, took on a journey theme as speaker after speaker paralleled Pine Avenue's quest for a brighter future to Columbus' expedition to discover America.

Wishing all parties "Bon Voyage," Charles P. Steiner said that like Columbus, the association is beginning a new journey and facing the unknown.

Steiner, president of the Niagara Falls Area Chamber of Commerce, referred to Columbus Square Park, which was developed by the association with the cooperation of the city, as the springboard for the new venture. The park has become the center for well-attended concerts, festivals and special events held by the association.

Mayor James C. Galie said it was appropriate the announcement was made on Columbus Day because the city has been on a voyage with the association to stabilize and improve Pine Avenue for 15 years. Galie said that while businesses have opened and businesses have closed, the score always has been on the positive side.

A losing score is what the association hopes to avoid with this new project aimed at reversing the decline that even Pine Avenue, generally considered the city's most vital business district, has been experiencing. City officials, Pine Avenue business operators and local residents have expressed concern over the rising vacancy rate along the commercial corridor.

According to the five-year plan presented by the association, private investment in the development of new businesses is estimated at $1 million and facade improvements and rehabilitations at $300,000.

The association plans to invest $900,000 into developing a heritage museum, installing mini sidewalk murals, promotions and planning of special events, entry archways and administrative support.

The city will kick in with $1.5 million in public improvements, such as streetlights, $300,000 through matching grants and loans for facades and rehabilitation, $100,000 for administrative support, and $300,000 for loans to private entrepreneurs for new business development.

The city has set aside $500,000 to be used toward the development of an as-yet unspecified major attraction in or near the City Market. The city is looking for a private partner to develop the attraction, according to Larry Krizan, the city's development chief. Development of the City Market is key to the Little Italy plan. The business association is working with the city to find a compatible development. The City Council must approve the allocation of community development funds a well as a Scenic Protective Ordinance aimed at preserving the character of Little Italy. The ordinance would be used to ensure that exterior building changes complement the overall master plan. One of the "mini murals" that are to dot the sidewalk depicting the contributions of famous Italian-Americans, local and otherwise, was displayed Monday. The "muralette," a tribute to local pro-baseball pitcher, Sal "The Barber" Maglie was unveiled by Galie and Maglie's widow, Doris.

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